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The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the… (2004)

by Ursula K. Le Guin

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The author presents a collection of nonfiction writings, including essays on such topics as Tolstoy, Tolkien, women's shoes, Mark Twain, family life, and beauty, as well as autobiographical writings and reflections on the arts of reading and writing.



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The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination as a collection is something of a hodgepodge, but there are many valuable nuggets to be mined, so it's a worthwhile book for any aspiring writer to consult from time to time. The personal essays in the first section, "Personal Matters," are especially worth reading because Le Guin is a terrific writer and an interesting person. Other essays throughout the book, particularly Le Guin's thoughts on gender, are also interesting. Do what I did--leaf through the book and read what catches your fancy. It's sure to be worth your while.

Expanded thoughts, particularly on the last section specifically about writing, are on my blog here: https://shannonturlington.com/2016/04/27/writing-advice-from-ursula-k-le-guin/ ( )
  sturlington | Apr 27, 2016 |
From what I remember, Ursula K. LeGuin's collection of essays Dancing at the Edge of the World included a fascinating collection of insights about writing, life, etc. It was where I first learned that LeGuin was the daughter of the anthropologist involved with Ishi. (Look it up. Read the book Ishi in Two Worlds. You won't be disappointed.) And it was where I was first introduced to LeGuin's non-fiction/essays.

It was that memory that sent me to buy this book as soon as I knew it existed.

And, unless my memory is playing false with me, this collection just isn't quite so good.

Don't get me wrong – there is much to recommend in this book. Going right to that whole "Ishi" thing (and my first degree was in anthropology, so why shouldn't I) there is a very nice piece called "Indian Uncles" which uses Ishi as a springboard (she disappoints her listeners by explaining she has no memories of Ishi because he died before she was born) to talk about the other native Americans introduced to her through her father's work as an anthropologist. It is skilled in that it speaks about the times, about people in general, and about LeGuin in particular. That is what good writing should do.

And that quality of writing is evident throughout the book in that her explorations of herself, literature, writing, and other general topics speaks about more than just those topics.

I think my problem is that many of these writings came across as rambling rather than focused. This may be because so many are lectures adapted to essay or, potentially more problematic, various writings and musings (many never published before) that have been adapted and cobbled together to provide the content.

In general, there is a little too much repetition and a little too little focus.

However, I should add that the book succeeds in relation to another one of measures of a books success – the number of dog-eared pages. There are enough of these pages that it is quickly obvious I found material I wanted to remember.

Again, it is not that this is a bad book, it is just not as good as I recall the previous book being. Unfair to hold a book up against the memory of a book? Perhaps. But whether that memory drove my final assessment or not, I just didn't find this book as engaging as I thought it would. And therein lies the ultimate problem. ( )
2 vote figre | Apr 16, 2015 |
This was SO wonderful. Le Guin writing about all sorts of things. Amusing, insightful, thought-provoking. ( )
  amaraduende | Mar 30, 2013 |
I am a fan of Ursula Le Guin - both her fiction and non-fiction works. This is a great book her essays on a variety of topics. Easy to pick up and read any of them. They are uniformly absorbing and thought provoking. ( )
  corklizard | Aug 23, 2010 |
At Helen's insistence, I reread this wonderful collection of essays by the master. Her essay about the vast majority of writing awards going to men is infuriating; the title essay about the wave of creativity is extremely valuable. ( )
  bordercollie | Mar 19, 2009 |
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As for the mot juste, you are quite wrong. Style is a very simple matter: it is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can't use the wrong words. But on the other hand here am I sitting after half the morning, crammed with ideas, and visions, and so on, and can't dislodge them, for lack of the right rhythm. Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes far deeper than words. A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it; and in writing (such is my present belief) one has to recapture this, and set this working (which has nothing apparently to do with words) and then, as it breaks and tumbles in the mind, it makes words to fit it. But no doubt I shall think differently next year. -- Virginia Woolf writing to Vita Sackville-West, 16 March 1926
In loving memory of Virginia Kidd
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I am a man.
It was men who first got poetry off the page, but the act was of great importance to women. Women have a particular stake in keeping the oral functions of literature alive, since misogyny wants women to be silent, and misogynist critics and academics do not want to hear the woman's voice in literature, in any sense of the word. There is solid evidence for the fact that when women speak more than 30 percent of the time, men perceive them as dominating the conversation; well, similarly, if, say, two women in a row get one of the big annual literary awards, masculine voices start talking about feminist cabals, political correctness, and the decline of fairness in judging. The 30 percent rule is really powerful. If more than one woman out of four or five won the Pulitzer, the PEN/Faulkner, the Booker--if more than one women in ten were to win the Nobel literature prize--the ensuing masculine furore would devalue and might destroy the prize. Apparently, literary guys can only compete with each other. Put on a genuinely equal competitive footing with women, they get hysterical. They just have to have their voices heard 70 percent of the time. -- From "Off the Page: Loud Cows"
...Making female noises, shrieking and squeaking and being shrill, all those things that annoy people with longer vocal cords. Another case where the length of organs seems to be so important to men. -- From "Off the Page: Loud Cows"
The inescapable conclusion is that prize juries...through conscious or unconscious prejudice, reward men four and a half times more than women.

The escapable conclusion is that men write fiction four and a half times better than women. This conclusion appears to be acceptable to many people, so long as it goes unspoken.

Those of us who do not find it acceptable have to speak. -- From "Award and Gender"
There are a whole lot of ways to be perfect, and not one of them is attained through punishment. --- From "Dogs, Cats, and Dancers: Thoughts About Beauty"
The exercise of imagination is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are because it has the power to show that the way things are is not permanent, not universal, not necessary.

Having that real though limited power to put established institutions into question, imaginative literature has also the responsibility of power. The storyteller is the truthteller. -- From "A War Without End"
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The author presents a collection of nonfiction writings, including essays on such topics as Tolstoy, Tolkien, women's shoes, Mark Twain, family life, and beauty, as well as autobiographical writings and reflections on the arts of reading and writing.

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